Trump in Europe: A frayed alliance
“Expectations were low for the European leg of President Trump’s first trip abroad,” said Fred Kaplan in Slate.com, “but it turns out they weren’t low enough.” At last week’s NATO summit in Brussels, Trump rudely shoved aside the prime minister of Montenegro in order to preen at the front of a group photo—but the worst was yet to come. In a speech that left European leaders snickering to one another behind their hands, Trump lectured them for their “chronic underpayments”—that is, the failure of some NATO members to spend 2 percent of their GDP on defense. In other words, he treated members of this crucial alliance, whose troops fought and died in Afghanistan alongside ours after 9/11, as if each was “a Trump Tower tenant delinquent on his rent.” More shocking still was Trump’s refusal to affirm America’s commitment to Article 5 of the NATO treaty, which calls for members to defend one another if attacked. Later, a sober German Chancellor Angela Merkel responded by saying, “The times in which we can fully count on others are somewhat over.”
“Everyone needs to calm down,” said Kevin Drum in MotherJones.com. Trump may have not mentioned Article 5 as a bargaining chip to pressure European nations to spend more money on defense. In the end, he “was clear enough” about his support for NATO. Standing before a pile of twisted steel from the twin towers, Trump vowed the U.S. would “never forsake the friends who stood by our side” after 9/11. The president deserves credit, not liberal whining, for having the guts to remind Merkel and other “deadbeats” that they’re not meeting their financial obligations to NATO’s joint defense, said Michael Goodwin in NYPost.com. His “clarity on the global stage” was a stirring “reminder of why he was elected.”
Trump made something else clear, said Max Boot in USA Today. He “clearly prefers” the company of tyrants to elected leaders. On his first stop in Saudi Arabia, he basked in the red-carpet flattery of its reigning royal family, telling the autocrats he wouldn’t “lecture” them over their execution of political prisoners or contempt for human rights. He then treated European leaders with cold disdain, even complaining that Germany was “bad, very bad” for selling so many cars in the U.S. We now have a president who views “the Saudis as truer friends than the Europeans,” who “is less offended by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine than by Germany’s sale of luxury cars to Americans.” As Russia’s Vladimir Putin watched Trump undermine and divide NATO, said Jennifer Rubin in WashingtonPost.com, he must have been thrilled that his “intervention in the U.S. election paid off so handsomely.”
Trump represents “everything Europeans hate about America,” said Yascha Mounk in Slate.com: the swagger, the vulgarity, the lowbrow disdain for history and intellectuals. But the truth is that Trump “makes them, well, happy” by confirming their sense of cultural superiority. Trump’s visit left Europeans “aghast,” said Natalie Nougayrède in TheGuardian.com, but it also helped them “focus their minds on what they had in common and how they could protect it,” at a moment when the project of European integration seemed to be faltering. After Trump flew home, shaken NATO leaders joined to say they’re united by common “values,” not just interests, and would stand together with or without the U.S. In the long run, Trump’s presidency could serve as the “binding agent” that ends up holding Europe together.